Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Our Most Holy Lady Cyber Monastery

In the Middle East there is a tradition that says, when Jesus died on the cross and was  put in Mary's arms, she let out such a great cry that it echoed among the surrounding mountains and hills. In remembrance of her lament, a monastery was built nearby called Our Most Holy Lady.

I can find nothing about the monastery today. Like anything else monasteries come and go. Sometimes enemies plunder them, or wars destroy them, or the environment is too inhospitable for the monks to survive. Still, a community of monks established to remember Mary's sorrow seems very fitting in a world of tears. There are many monasteries and convents in that part of the world, some large, others with only a handful of monks. So let's imagine that the Monastery of Our Most Holy Lady still exists or that we are calling it back into existence.

More than 250,000 Yemeni children
suffer from malnutrition
If I were the abbot of Our Most Holy Lady, I would require that to be a monk at this monastery, the applicant would have to commit to pray each day for the people of the world who weep for the losses of their lives. The charism or spiritual quality of the monastery would be that the monks and nuns would have a deep sense of solidarity with the world in its tears: the mother here whose little baby is among the over 250,000 children who suffer malnutrition in Yemen. The father who carries his baby, killed in war, to the cemetery. The three girls in Ohio who were kept in sexual slavery.

As a young man I strongly considered a vocation to the hermit life - a monk living a solitary life of  prayer and work. Exploring the idea I would visit a small community of hermit nuns from time to time, living for a week or so in a hermitage in the woods. In a conversation with one of  the sisters I asked, "What does a hermit do all day?" She answered, "He reads The New York Times and then goes to pray." It made sense to me.

This doesn't mean that the monks and nuns of Our Most Holy Lady Monastery would go around dehydrating in  floods of depressed tears, but it does mean that they would take the world's pain very seriously, acknowledging those tears in their prayer. Perhaps at times they would have to work  hard not to become immune to it all and to remain open-hearted. Why not give a lifetime to this? Human beings give their hearts to many lesser things: cars, wars, stock portfolios, entertainments, novels, success. Why not a monastery whose reason for existing, is to stand with the world in its suffering, to learn the heart of mercy, in prayer before God?

Maybe we could think about the formation of a kind of cyber-monastery where we'd do just that. That as we read a newspaper, we'd never turn a page where suffering is recounted without a prayer. That as we watch the news on any kind of screen, we'd never switch channels or log-off without at least a moment of  silent recognition and solidarity. The point being that we would train ourselves to notice, to ponder, to honor, instead of just racing off to the next event, commitment or distraction.

I've seen Michelangelo's moving pieta in Rome a number of times - Mary holding the dead Christ across her lap after he was taken down from the cross. Each time I've visited  there are large crowds milling about and posing for pictures in front of it. There is a hum of talking as camera-ready folks tell their friends and family where and how to stand and to smile. You don't get the feeling that anyone is reflecting on the image or certainly making any connection to the laments people are making all over the world.

But even if the crowds were respectfully quiet and aware of Michelangelo's masterpiece, honoring Jesus' death and Mary's sorrow, I'm not sure it would mean a great deal if they didn't  then make the planet-connection, honoring the pieta as it exists in so many places around the world everyday.


  1. I avoid the news like the plague. There is so much negativity and suffering. If I do happen to watch it or by chance hear something, it often keeps me awake at night. Seeing the picture posted of the starving child brings tears to my eyes and an ache in my chest. I feel so helpless. The only thing that does take the pain away is prayer...and lots of it. I will also hug my children a little tighter and thank God for what I have. Here I was today fretting about money and not being able to save. My family is clothed, our bellies full and we will fall asleep in warm beds. I too often take for granted all that we have.

  2. This could not have been said better. We should all hug our kids a little bit tighter and remember to be thankful for all of our many blessings. Amen.

  3. Thank you for the reminder to make my encounter with the news useful through prayer! I, too, quickly scroll away from those painful images, but as I do I will remember to pray.

  4. This Friday, May 17 I happened to visit St Peter's on an extraordinarily "quiet" day visitor wise. As I stood there I reflected on thoughts...maybe I read here; about Mary holding Jesus' "dead weight". The folds of her garment make this very clear. Plus her very young face contrasting with the face of Jesus. It's too bad that visitors see "a thing" rather than understand the what Michaelangelo is showing us....